Is Mayor de Blasio a Pragmatist, a Progressive, or Both?

Before Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first term ended, Professor Joseph P. Viteritti (Hunter College) wrote and published a book examining the mayor, his progressive policies, and what he has and hasn’t done for New York City to date. The book, The Pragmatist: Bill de Blasio’s Quest to Save the Soul of New York, not only analyzes de Blasio’s politics, but also takes a historical look at how progressive politicians have shaped this city, and how the mayor, now in his second term, fits into that history.

After two decades of Republican mayors, electing de Blasio, a progressive Democrat, along with a progressive City Council, was a major turn of events for the city. Viteritti wanted to assess the priorities de Blasio set, how successful he has been so far, and the challenges he faces, including the dramatic reduction in federal funds.

After intensely examining de Blasio’s background and his policies as well as interviewing the mayor for five hours, Viteritti says in a CUNY Book Beat podcast that he recognized two sides to de Blasio — a radical side that “has a clear sympathy for people who are struggling … and a pragmatic part of him that jumps into the political system.” De Blasio ran as an advocate for social justice and on a platform of economic equality, which resonated with voters after 12 years of a billionaire mayor (Michael Bloomberg). Yet Viteritti sees de Blasio as a conflicted politician. There’s one part of him that wants to push the boundaries of politics and the other side of him that has to work within the boundaries of politics.”

In many ways, de Blasio has done a lot on the social front, like creating ambitious housing and homeless programs, creating universal pre-kindergarten, and assembling the broadest progressive coalition in the city’s history. Yet these are difficult times with high rates of poverty and homelessness, and many progressives criticize de Blasio for not going far enough.

What’s almost more important to Viteritti is de Blasio’s role in the progressive history of the city, beginning with Fiorello La Guardia. “What I was trying to do here was to tell a story about the rise, fall, and regeneration of progressivism in New York,” he said in another podcast.

He argues that New Yorkers are immigrants or children of immigrants and have long had a sense of responsibility to help others in need. That is the soul of the city, and as he alludes to in the book’s subtitle, the soul that needs saving.  

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Book Cover: 'The Pragmatist: Bill de Blasio's Quest to Save the Soul of New York' by Joseph P. Viteritti
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The Pragmatist: Bill de Blasio’s Quest to Save the Soul of New York City
Oxford University Press, 2017

Work By
Joseph P. Viteritti (Professor, Urban Policy and Planning Department) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools
Hunter College

Bonus Content
“Interview with Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute” (Hunter College)

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